Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Will the Real Gil Grissom Please Stand Up?

In the absence of an appreciation for human life and/or a well-calibrated moral compass, the marvels of modern forensic science should definitely be enough to give a would-be "bad guy" a reason to take pause.

Last night, Mechanic Bob and I attended a presentation on one of the practical applications of forensic science: Crime Scene Investigation. Both Mechanic Bob and I got our introduction to "forensic science" in front of our respective boob tubes, watching episode of "CSI." During our careful study of the Hollywood-ified version of crime scene investigations, we saw well-coifed men and women collect evidence, haul it off to a lab, and eventually, "help" catch bad guys.

Whatever our motivation, natural curiosity or a desire to more deeply understand our favorite TV show, Mechanic Bob and I took a trip to the University (and down memory lane for me) to hear a REAL crime scene investigator speak about his craft.

CSI James has been working with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension since 1999. He majored in chemistry, thinking he would like to be a teacher, then eventually decided to pursue his master's. He worked in some labs for a while, then one day saw an ad for a job as a forensic scientist. He applied twice and was rejected twice. Then he attended a seminar presented by a leader of the MBCA and introduced himself. The men had lunch and "Prominent Man" gave CSI James some helpful feedback for his next interview. The rest is history.

CSI James is a specialist in "trace evidence" - that's the teeny, tiny stuff that can't been seen by the naked eye. He also is well studied in a number of other areas.

He said the crime scene teams (of as many as 25 qualified people) collect evidence and take it back to their lab for processing. He said about 100 people work in the lab.

Usually one scientist who is the leader of the team works directly with law enforcement to make sense of whatever happened.

CSIs are an impartial body, he said, whose job is just to analyze the evidence. The lawyers must use the evidence that they find to prove or disprove a case.

Besides learning all kinds of fascinating things (like the MBCA has about 6,000 firearms on file and burn patterns can help CSIs determine the source of a fire) I learned that the TV show isn't all that much like real life CSI - although I think it captures the best parts!

Afterward, Mechanic Bob pointed out that "forensics" is a word that is popping up in a lot of fields: there are "forensic accountants" for example, who investigate fraud and testify in court about their findings; or people who investigate computer hard drives - computer forensic experts.

Mechanic Bob thought perhaps he might be able to bring his own brand of expertise to a crime scene investigation as a "forensic mechanic." I think the position I am best suited for is one I currently hold: armchair forensic scientist.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Will Surv-hive

My doctor's visit made me none the wiser of my special little splotches. She suggested (prescribed) steroids. Supposedly this 5-day deal will cause the hives to go away. I am looking at my skin now and it appears there are only one or two that are really noticeable. Maybe they are going away on their own...I read that 70 percent of the cases of hives go unsolved....**Hmm**

Mystery Maladies

Sometime Thursday night into Friday morning I developed hives. I am not sure from whence they came. The past three days, two or three doses of generic Benadryl have been keeping them somewhat under control. The side affect, however, is that Benadryl makes me super sleepy. Today is Monday and they are still blotching up my arms and legs, so I made an appointment for 11:40 a.m. to see if the medical community can offer up any explanation for what is going on with my body.

I am grateful that pants and long shirt sleeves are able to keep my splotchy skin under wraps and out of the public eye.

Weekend In Review

The Blessid Mother (TBM) and The Wise One (TWO) came to town this weekend. Their last visit was about a year ago and a lot has changed in my life since then - the most obvious being the location of my domicile.

I went to great pains to make sure that everything was "just so" for their arrival. The good news is, that process took about half of the time it used too, since I have been doing a better job of keeping my house clean on a regular basis and clutter at a minimum.

They arrived late Friday evening, but just in time for a real treat: a fish fry at a local pub. This all-you-can-eat fish fry is the best kept secret in Central Minnesota, and I was delighted to share it with my parents who I consider to be fish fry connoisseurs. Saturday was spent doing some grocery shopping with Mom and computer rehabilitation with Dad. We also headed to the local lanes to roll some balls. The surprise MVP of the event was Mom. She was a great bowler many years ago when she was in a league, but since then she has had some hip and back problems that have prohibited her from rolling. I can't remember now what the final scores were, but I am pretty sure she spanked Dad in at least one game, which is funny because Dad has been bowling in a league for the past 2 years. I was really surprised. I performed above my most recent league average (106 - yuck) with a 118. I was having trouble connecting with the head pin. I partially blame my performance on a persistent case of hives that has been making me really itchy lately.

TBM and TWO left early Sunday morning in pretty foggy conditions, but thankfully they made it back to Wisconsin without any trouble.

Friday, February 22, 2008


The Blessid Mother and Wise One will be visiting this weekend!

It's been a very, very long time since they have made the journey to the great north to see their firstborn child (me). This is understandable, as their vacation weeks are limited and they would rather spend them baking in the sun than freezing their asses off.

I have a half day to complete my preparations and make sure my house is as perfect as possible. Wish me luck.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Serious Commitment

I have recently noticed, although I am sure it has been going on far longer than I have cared to acknowledge, I often refer to myself as "we." This makes sense for people who are married and have two brains making many of the decisions for a shared life, but not for a single-person, single-income, presumably single-brain household like mine. What is my excuse? I have a dog.

Ella is her name. She believes she is human - but that is neither here nor there.

Our lives are inextricably intertwined, and perhaps this is why if someone asks, "What did you do this weekend?" I find myself saying, "We just hung out at home." We, being of course, the dog and me.

"We" do a lot together, it turns out. "We" clean the house, surf the Internet, watch TV and do laundry. However, "I" perform the activities that take place outside of the house. "I" bowl, do the grocery shopping and go to work. Is it strange that I factor the dog into the equation when describing what goes on at home? I am not sure. I often call her "the dog" to remind myself she is just that, a DOG, but it doesn't seem to help.

I try to be careful who I say "we" around because the listener may a) become confused; b) think I am nuts; or c) all of the above. Still, sometimes it just slips out.

The truth is, as a single-twenty-something-year-old, 300 miles away from family, and about 90 miles from my closest friends, "the dog" is a very big part of my life. We do a lot of activities together (even if she doesn't actually help with the cleaning, the moral support is evident) and in some respects, she is like a significant other or a special friend - but better (in some respects). She is always delighted to see me, she never judges me, and she does not complain if I leave dirty laundry (especially underwear) out in the open. Sure, she leaves hair everywhere, but that's a minor inconvenience.

And let's not forget, she is super cute.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The World Gone Mad

Sometimes I feel like the world is going mad. When I say "world" I mean the planets in the universe known as my life. Sameness is something that can be a blessing and a curse in life, but generally, I like a certain amount of "sameness" in my life. When the people in my life make changes in their lives, it makes me aware of the fact that words like "constant" and "unchanging" don't describe a real aspect of life. Nothing is ever really the same. Routines exist - this is true. Routines being the human way of trying to create sameness. Routines being a means of enforcing the illusion of sameness. But then, I am not talking about routines. I am talking about the world gone mad - or at least the planets in my world slipping out of an alignment I had accepted.

My sister has decided to move to Mexico. My sister is a blond-haired, blue-eyed American who has a fascination with the Mexican culture (if this weren't true, I don't know how she could be nearly bilingual) and a Mexican boyfriend she first made contact with on a family vacation last May. My sister is 23 and has the blessing of not having made any really big missteps in her life thus far -- I hope this doesn't turn out to be the first. She will be leaving for Mexico in about a month. I don't know the details of her plans. I do know she is going there without a job or a place of her own.

I find these things a little scary, despite having a good deal of faith in my sister. She has, in her life, always seemed to make good decisions -- or at least well-thought out.

I admire her sense of adventure - and after a year of living with Mom and Dad and working hard, she has been able to save enough money so she can afford to be a little more adventurous than your average 23 year old.

I know that the world hasn't really gone mad, and in time, I will be able to make the mental adjustments necessary to deal with my sister's move. I think perhaps my sister has a mental capacity for bigger dreams than I. My dreams are kind of small, and within what I consider a realistic scope of expectations. I guess I can't fault someone for having big dreams. I can, however, miss my little sister. And I will.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Mailman Brings A Package

A small package arrived for me at work today. I knew where it originated because the sender, Grandma Pat, contacted me in advance of the package's arrival, but I did not know what could be inside.

Grandma Pat is a no-nonsense kind of gal. She is well-read, and a honor student of life. She grew up in Winona, Minn. an area she has described as rather insular (and very humid in the summertime). She moved to the big city of Milwaukee when she was 19 years old and got a job working for that company that makes bowling balls oh-why-can't-I remember-the-name...

I have always thought Grandma Pat was very brave; leaving her family to go live in a strange place in another state. I don't know what Grandma was like as a girl, if her confidence, wisdom and unapologetic curiosity were traits she always embodied, or if they were developed over time. I have trouble imagining Grandma Pat any other way than straight-forward and fascinated by life.

There is a lot to love about Grandma Pat, besides the pre-made meals she sends home with me when I come and visit, or the apple sauce, or the strawberry jam, or the cookies at Christmas time (especially the frosted ones this year, oh yum). She loves her children, and her grandchildren, especially. She is the only person I know (besides my mother) who can randomly break into song and make it seem perfectly natural. She does not dwell on the bad things in life and never takes herself too seriously. She keeps the special things we grandchildren made for her when we were growing up. She is not afraid of the Internet (she may be the biggest fan of the e-mail forward button I know!) and is one of my only blog readers. (But I would never allow that to influence my objectivity).

Grandma Pat is a person who will randomly send a package to you in the mail just to let you know that she is out there -- and she is thinking of you. The world needs more people like that.

I feel lucky to have such a wonderful grandmother. (I Love You, Grandma ;-)

Just Another Thursday

This morning a girl I work with greeted me as I entered my cubicle. She stood in the tiny opening, a mischievous expression on her face. The last time I saw such a look, she had transposed our boss's head on Brett Favre's body, so I asked her what she was up to. She flashed a shiny engagement ring and a smile to rival the diamond's sparkle. Her boyfriend proposed to her last night - on Valentine's Day.

I did something on Valentine's Day, too. It was not romantic in the least. Ex-fiance called me up. His alma mater was playing the local basketball team at the high school's gym. Ex-fiance intended on going to the game. Did I want to come? Considering the alternative (spending the night with TV boyfriend Gil Grissom doing autopsies and solving crimes) I agreed to go.

The team lost and we left the game early. Ex-Fiance offered to buy me dinner at the freeway truck stop. I am not in the habit of turning down free meals, so off we went. He was enjoying his eggs and bacon and I my BLT when in walked in his parents. Turned out they were in town for a wake. Ex-fiance half-heartedly invited them to join us in our tiny both. They did.

I would say it was awkward, but it was so beyond awkward, it was no longer awkward. It struck me as very, very funny. Because we were already half finished with our meals when they showed up, Ex-Fiance and I left before their food arrived, our dirty plates in a heap on the table. Ex-fiance tried to get the waitress to take them away, but she was oblivious. And so we left.

I feel bad for Ex-fiance. At least I won't see his parents for a while after this "incident." Surely his mom will have a million and one questions for him why he was "out" with me on Valentine's Day. Both of his parents have always been nice to me, even after our romantic relationship disintegrated. I got the feeling that his mom was somehow, relieved that he found someone to put up with him. When we broke it off, she assumed it was his fault - not a very motherly point of view. But then, she did raise him.

If only they would realize, for us, yesterday was not Valentine's Day at all - just another Thursday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day Autopsy, Anyone?

I have an important decision to make. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I haven’t decided to whom I will give my heart. I have two possible choices for “leading man” in my life – both will be somewhere on my cable TV tomorrow night. They are (drumroll please) Gil Grissom of CSI: Las Vegas and Horatio Caine of CSI: Miami.

Gil Grissom (William Petersen) is a forensic entomologist and the night-shift supervisor of the Clark County, Nevada CSI (forensics) team, investigating crimes in and around the city of Las Vegas. His hobbies include: Bugs, dead bodies, history, and quoting from a variety of literary sources, including Shakespeare and Keats.

Horatio Caine (David Caruso) is the Head of the Miami-Dade crime lab, a forensic analyst and former bomb-squad officer. He is a commissioned police officer, and thus carries a badge and gun. His hobbies include: Wearing black, helping people and putting bad guys behind bars.

Hmm....Grissom is emotionally unavailable and Caine is obsessed with catching criminals. Both sound so promising. Good thing I still have a few hours to think this thing through...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thoughts of Love

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Three Cheers for Civic Duty & Holy Days of Obligation

Voters in 24 states are going to the polls on today: Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

As much as I am NOT looking forward to having to drive 20 miles to my caucus, barring any natural disaster I will be there at 6:30 p.m. to register. The good news is I won't have to stay and argue for two hours with my "neighbors" about issues: I can just fill out a presidential preference ballot. Thank goodness! This isn't to say I don't care about issues, but it's a Tuesday night of a publication week for me and I am super busy...I have stories to write, a dog to walk, exercises to do, etc. etc. Then I have to get up early tomorrow morning for the Ash Wednesday service before work, so I will need to get to sleep earlier tonight.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Philosophising Farmer

The man who was the subject of an interview that took three-plus hours, called me today to personally thank me for a job well done and to request that I mail him a few more copies. (Not because he "likes to toot" his "own horn," but because he has a lot of family who would like copies of the story. I find it endearing when people are so modest that they feel compelled to preface their requests for additional copies of an article about them with this sentence.)

The man also called to tell me why he liked the article and how he was pleased with his decision to allow me to print it without a pre-screening. The article gave him closure, which he really needed as he was leaving the dairy industry. I think it was a reaffirmation for him, too, to see in black and white the reasons behind his decision. I think this whole experience will prove useful when I come across people in the future who either a) object to being the subject of an article; or b) feel like they have to see the copy before it is printed.

In addition, the man told me he had thought about me after the story was written. (He has children my age so he meant this in a fatherly way). He said he believes my future will be filled with good things because I "have it coming." It's nice to here that "I have it coming" in THAT context. He also offered some romantic advice, telling me not to settle and to "keep shaking bushes" until something good falls out. I love people in rural communities - where else can you hear something like that? He also advised me not to cling to anyone with the hopes that someday I could change them - because I can't.

It was a dose of philosophy I wasn't expecting today, but it went down pretty well. Days like today I am glad to be a journalist.

Here is a snippet of the story about the man, whose name has been changed for the purpose of keeping my blog semi anonymous. NOTE: The story ran in advance of his retirement, which is why, taken out of context, the verb tenses may not make sense.

Dairyman Joe will complete the final chapter of his dairying career Monday, Jan. 28, when he takes his herd to the Smalltown Stockyard.

Joe, who farms with his wife, Elsie, has milked between 10-12 cows on his dairy operation the past 14 years without exception.

The beginning of the end of Joe's dairying days was in November, when he tore his left rotator cuff. He had milked through the pain for the past three months, hoping his body would heal itself; now the time has come for him to defer to the experts.

"I went to the doctor and he said, 'Dairyman, you're not connected,'" Joe said. "I will need to have surgery and after that I will have to do several months of rehabilitation. I am told the rehabilitation will be hard work."

But the last thing Joe is afraid of is a little hard work.

For the past 14 years, Joe has been milking between 12-15 cows in the stanchion barn his father built in 1963. Little has changed on the farm since then.

Joe milks his cows with a Surge bucket milker. After the bucket is full, he transfers the milk to a stainless steel 5-gallon pail. Joe then carries the pail into the milk room where he pours the milk through a strainer and into his 160-gallon bulk tank. He repeats this process for each cow. Milking 12 cows usually takes Joe about an hour and a half.

For manure handling, Joe doesn't use a skid loader or a barn cleaner, but a manure carrier. The manure carrier runs on a track traveling down the middle of his barn. Joe estimated the manure tub holds waste from about four animals. The waste is then carried out of the barn about 60 feet and dumped either onto a pile or into the manure spreader. Cleaning the barn takes about 45 minutes.